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Thames Gateway: SMEs

Volume 626: debated on Tuesday 27 June 2017

5. What steps he is taking to support the growth of small and medium-sized businesses in the Thames Gateway. (900021)

Supporting small business is a crucial part of our industrial strategy. The Government are investing in the Thames Gateway, including through the local growth fund and the new lower Thames crossing. We will continue to work with industry and local authorities in the Thames Gateway to create the conditions for all businesses to thrive.

The lack of connectivity between Kent and Essex frustrates commerce between those two counties. The lower Thames crossing will help with that, but it will take some years for it to be built. Will the Minister use that time to work with local businesses in the area to unlock its huge potential, which has yet to be fully realised?

The lower Thames crossing is due to open in 2025. In the meantime, local growth hubs will continue to deliver support services to help businesses in the area to grow over that period. In addition, almost half of the South East local enterprise partnership funding of £274 million is directly supporting growth in north Kent and south Essex by improving transport infrastructure, addressing skills needs and creating new business spaces.

The Minister will know that one of the strengths of the Thames Gateway is the closeness of connections elsewhere in Europe, and one of the worries that small and medium-sized businesses have is whether they will be able to continue to recruit staff from other EU countries after Brexit. Will she acknowledge the strength of concerns of firms in the Thames Gateway, and can she offer them any reassurance about the prospects after Brexit?

Having travelled around the country talking to many businesses over the past year, I acknowledge those concerns in the Thames Gateway area. However, I was reassured—I hope the right hon. Gentleman was, too—by the Prime Minister’s opening contribution to the negotiations last week and the reassurance she offered many hundreds of thousands of EU citizens currently residing in the UK, including those working in the right hon. Gentleman’s area.

Order. The hon. Gentleman is an estimable fellow, but West Dunbartonshire is a considerable distance from the Thames Gateway. Knowing the intellectual eclecticism of the hon. Gentleman, I think he may have a pertinent inquiry and I am absolutely fascinated to discover whether that is the case.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Businesses—those in the Thames Gateway, along with those in West Dunbartonshire—require confidence in those who form Governments and in those who support them. Does the Minister agree that that requires transparency? Will he call on every political party in Northern Ireland to publish fully everything in terms of the political donations and campaigns they are involved in?

No, that is manifestly out of order. The hon. Gentleman, I think, was more interested in what he had to say to the Minister than in anything the Minister might have said to him.